The moment Friday night when CC Sabathia turned the wrong way on a short grounder by Robert Andino, giving himself no outlet and allowing the Baltimore Orioles to load the bases in the eighth inning, it felt like the Birds were cooking up some trademark Orioles Magic.
The O's finally had scored against Sabathia, and trailed the New York Yankees by two runs in Game 5 of the ALDS. The tying run was in scoring position and Nate McLouth, the embodiment of Orioles Magic, was standing at the plate. At no other point all night did the Orioles seem to be brewing anything. Even earlier, in the sixth, when McLouth appeared to nick the right-field foul pole with a deep drive, the umpires returned from the replay viewing room and upheld the original foul call. That's not Orioles Magic! That's just a dubious call that went the Yankees way. Bah.
But this business in the eighth, after producing two base runners through seven innings, this was something.
And then Sabathia got strike one over the plate to McLouth. And then McLouth spoiled strike two. The best McLouth could do was take a ball in the dirt. He struck out on the next pitch, the nastiest of sliders. Two outs. It was up to J.J. Hardy, and Sabathia was up to the task, getting him to hit a weak grounder to short.
The Orioles mounted no challenge in the ninth. The eighth was the last gasp. Orioles Magic had disappeared for good in 2012.
It sounds trite and empty to say it now, but the Orioles had a great season. Their first playoff appearance since 1997. The first time they had been any good at all since '97. A proud franchise, fallen on hard times recently, with something to finally cheer again. An offense built around a few young stars like Adam Jones and Matt Wieters, but also relying on retreads, supposed has-beens and a couple of never-weres. Guys like Mark Reynolds and Chris Davis. Lew Ford and McLouth. Ryan Flaherty. Steve Pearce (a couple of times). Losing Nick Markakis. Never really having Brian Roberts.
Starting pitchers who were surprisingly effective and relievers who were pretty much the best in the league collectively. Wei-Yin Chen. Joe Saunders. Steve Johnson? Miguel Gonzalez?! Darren O'Every Day. Jim Johnson, the Janitor who cleaned it all up. All of the extra-inning wins. All of the one-run wins. Manager Buck Showalter doing the best job of his career keeping it all together. New GM Dan Duquette didn't built it himself but if he wasn't so nearly flawless with every trade, signing and claim, they don't win 93 games. Not with an even run differential.
Theirs was the best story in the majors all season, other than that of the Oakland Athletics, who also got snuffed out in the ALDS. The fairytale would have been Orioles-A's in the ALCS, with a Cinderella guaranteed for the World Series. The Yankees and Tigers are worthy, sure. Just a little less magical.